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Balthasar on Theology and Truth

From Explorations in Theology Vol. 1: The Word Made Flesh

Revealed truth, since it is both divine truth and the truth we live by, is so constituted that the amount of truth in theology (as it prepares the way to worship and a life of obedience) must be measured in terms of worship and practical obedience. For Christ is no theory, not even insofar as he is the truth (not the truth as human knowledge is true). The flame of worship and obedience must burn through the dispassionateness of speculation, as it always does through the entire Word of God..." (152-53).

Coming Next

It's been a few weeks since I've finished up my posts on 1 Corinthians. It was a very fruitful study for me. It's the longest book of the Bible that I have ever completed. I was originally planning to dive right into 2 Corinthians, but I've decided to take a detour and tackle Ecclesiastes next. I don't know what my pace will be as I'm also going to be studying it with my wife, which I'm really looking forward to! For commentaries I will be using Fox and Enns. Probably no big surprise.

Commentary Review: 1 Corinthians

I have finally concluded my study through 1 Corinthians, so now it is time to write some commentary reviews! While for the blog posts I relied on just two commentaries, in the past I have extensively used two others and will include those in my reviews as well. These are not the only top notch 1 Corinthians commentaries on the market. Fee and Garland also come to mind, but I have not spent as much time with them as the four below.

As always, please check out my Commentary Series Overview post for details on the various series these commentaries come from.

If you've been reading my posts then it will be no surprise that I place Thiselton's commentary at the head of the class. I do not possess enough superlatives to describe this commentary. It's a one stop shop for all of your interpretive needs. One of the most helpful features is his translation. Contrary to most commentary translations, he did not produce a literal translation of the text, but made a very dynamic transla…

1 Corinthians 16:1-23

You can read the text here.

Paul concludes the letter by addressing a few related concerns. One of the major goals of his mission was to provide a substantial gift from the Gentile churches he founded to the poor Christians in Jerusalem, as an expression of their unity.[1] Clearly he has already spoken with the Corinthians about the collection, and he encourages them to save up for it, setting aside their excess money each Sunday. As part of their participation Paul offers to have one of the Corinthians travel with them to deliver the gift. He really wants to see them engaged.

Paul then tells of his travel plans. He firmly plans to come visit them soon, and stay for a while. However, he has very fruitful work in Ephesus which he does not want to cut short. In the meantime, he is sending Timothy to them. Clearly they would rather have Apollos, but Apollos isn't willing to go visit them at that time, so he commends Timothy to the Corinthians and encourage them to take care of him wh…

1 Corinthians 15:35-58

You can read the text here.

Paul moves now to tackle a key objective raised by some in the Corinthian congregation. A physical resurrected body seems ridiculous to them, as they see them as little more than resuscitated corpses. Paul has no tolerance for such nonsense and disdain. He swiftly corrects them giving them the analogy of a seed being planted. Our bodies when they are buried will be like seeds going into the ground. What springs up is not a seed but a whole plant, something far more glorious.  It has continuity with the seed, a wheat seed doesn't grow up into an apple tree. However, it surpasses it in glory. The same will be true of our resurrected bodies. They will be far more than reanimated corpses.

In our case our bodies prone to sin and decay will be transformed into immortal bodies that are animated by the Spirit and take on her character.[1] We are sown in the weakness and earthiness of our forebearers, however, Jesus serves as the template for our resurrected bod…

1 Corinthians 15:12-34

You can read the text here.

Paul had just established that the resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the gospel and the foundation of the Corinthians' faith. Given that, he is shocked and dismayed that some of the Corinthians could possibly deny that there is a resurrection of the dead. To make the implications clear in hopes of bringing them to their sense he hits them with the full implications of this belief. To be clear, what some seem to be arguing is that there is no general resurrection from the dead on the last day. Paul says, if that's true, then Jesus himself was not raised from the dead, which then implies that the gospel isn't true, the Corinthians are still enslaved to sin, and Paul and the other apostles have misrepresented God (a terrifying prospect).[1] Given the self denial called for by the Christian way of life, they are most piteous.

Paul's next stage in his argument is to reaffirm the truth of the resurrection and give them a vision of the grand…

What Can #MeToo Teach Us?

I am not on social media outside of this blog. I have long seen far more downside than upside to social media interaction. If you want to engage me in something concerning real life, text me, send me an email, or meet up in person. I also have rolled my eyes at times at social media activism. I did not see what it could accomplish. Then #MeToo arrived. Social media gave people a voice, an way to tell a story where the act of telling story was all that was needed to bring change. Exposure. Exposure of the powers that be, of the danger of male hegemony. Without this exposure things would never change. The powers would never be outed. There would be no chance that my daughter would encounter a world where she has a better than 50-50 chance of going through life avoiding unwanted sexual touching.[1] I am so grateful for #MeToo. However, we have an even bigger opportunity here. Sexual predation is a symptom of a wider disease.

Over the last eighteen months I've been taking on an increa…

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

You can read the text here.

Paul now tackles the core theological problem the Corinthians are facing head on. They need reminding (precisely why will have to wait for a later post) on the core gospel truth that Paul taught them and forms the basis for their Christian walk, the story of Jesus victory in his resurrection. That is of course, if they've taken this whole thing seriously.[1]

The single most important truths they had been taught were that Jesus died for their sins, he was buried (i.e., he really did die), and rose from the dead on the third day. None of this was a surprise to God, but it was all part of his plan (or at least retrospectively it is to those who have eyes to see). And it was publicly witnessed, by Peter, the rest of the apostles, by a large group, by James, and even last and least by Paul himself. Paul is the least because of his status as former persecutor of the church. But God does not care about status, he gives grace freely without regard of prior stat…

Book Review: Christian Theologies of Salvation

Christian Theologies of Salvation: A Comparative Introduction, edited by Justin Holcomb, is comprised of a collection covering the theories of salvation of significant theologians in church history. As stated by Holcomb in the introduction, the role of soteriology is to show how and why Jesus was and continues to be significant. Throughout Christian history there have been a variety of viewpoints and debates. This book will provide one with insight into those debates. Chapters fall into two categories. The book is arranged (mostly) chronologically, and as you reach each era of Christian history a brief treatment of that era is presented. Then you get a series of essays on major figures of that time period. Each of these essays contain some basic historical background on the subject to provide context for the summary of various key themes in their views regarding salvation. The individual essays are descriptive and contain very little evaluation of the viewpoints of the subject (with t…

1 Corinthians 14:26-40

You can read the text here.

Paul wraps up his discussion of spiritual gifts and the building of the body in worship in this section. God gives different members gifts which they may use to build the body during corporate worship.[1] Tongues are not a mandatory part of a service, but if they occur it should be at most two or three and always accompanied by interpretation.[2] Prophecy seems to be more core to the service and should also be limited to two or three speakers at most, and those assembled should evaluate its content for fidelity. All speech must be orderly and people must take turns that way there is no chaos and the body can actually be built up.

Paul wants women to be guarded in their interactions, especially married women. In Greco-Roman culture it was considered scandalous for a married woman to converse with a man who was not her husband. Paul wants to adhere to cultural norms and requires women to refrain from asking questions of others and ask their own husbands. If w…

The When of Justification and Election

I was reading James Gordon's chapter on Schleiermacher in Christian Theologies of Salvation and came across an interesting line that has me thinking. He stated that for Schleiermacher, '...there is no particular change in God with reference to justification, "since God is gracious to the human race in His Son," justification does include a change of consciousness of the individuals relation to God...' (p. 297).

This quote was deeply thought provoking. It seems to me that most Christologies and theologies of salvation don't explore the question of salvation, God's action, and time. How does the traditional assumption of God being outside of time impact salvation? Is there any sense in which God has a timeline? How does the incarnation play into these discussions? Of course along with these questions also belong questions concerning the nature of time itself and causation.

That's all I have in this post are some questions. If anyone has good references …

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

You can read the text here.

Apparently intent on making his point, Paul now applies his point from chapter 13 to the issues raised in chapter 12. He sees it as a both/and situation. The Corinthians shouldn't be choosing between the spiritual gifts and love, they should want both, especially gifts that build up the body like prophecy. Tongues are fine, but they build up the individual only since only God understands what is uttered.[1]

Failure to speak intelligibly prevents you from being understood and serving any true purpose. In its essence turns everyone into a foreigner or an outsider. This comes back to the main theme of the whole letter since it undermines the unity of the body. Paul's wants them to seek gifts that build the body and not destroy its unity through misuse of other, more personal gifts.

Thus for those who pray in tongues, Paul wants them to also pray for the gift of interpretation. Even for just their own sake this is good since it can involve the whole per…

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

You can read the text here.

Here Paul defines 'the better way,' the way of love. For Paul, love is the enactment of a disposition or inward orientation, an orientation focused outward towards others and their benefit. Whatever one does whether speaking in tongues, great deeds of faith, giving away one's money, no matter how hyperbolic,[1] if it isn't rooted in love, in other regard, it's worthless. It does not make one pleasing God, especially if its done to draw attention to oneself.

Paul then explicates what is at the heart of love. Here I will cite Thiselton's translation of the paragraph as it captures it so well:
Love waits patiently; love shows kindness. Love does not burn with envy; does not brag - is not inflated with its own importance. It does not behave with ill-mannered impropriety; it is not preoccupied with the interests of the self; does not become exasperated into pique; does not keep a reckoning up with evil. Love does not take pleasure in wron…

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

You can read the text here.

In this section Paul continues to hammer home the need for unity and for valuing every member of the church using a well known philosophical trope, that of a community forming a body. However, Paul turns the usual analogy, aimed at reinforcing the current social hierarchy, on its head.[1] Whether they like it or not, they are one body. All who have been baptized into Christ, are, by his Spirit, joined into one body.

The one body is made up of a variety of individuals with a variety of gifts. Just because one feels that that don't have any special role to play in the church's mission doesn't make them extraneous. Nor should they obsess over their "lack" of gifts. Every part has a role to play and every member is essential. If everyone had the same gifts the body would be a monstrosity, only through unified diversity can the body be healthy and whole. In fact, God has given those whose stature in the body may be small special honor. When…

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

You can read the text here.

The next topic Paul tackles, still with an eye towards unity, is spiritual gifts. The opening is a bit enigmatic, but at the core Paul wants to make clear the basic dichotomy of the Christian life compared to their former lives as pagans. It's about where one stands in relation to Jesus, whether one submits to his lordship or rejects it. The gifts given by the Spirit will be similarly identifiable, they will be Christomorphic.[1] Also, to set the stage for later discussion, Paul makes clear that their God is a living God who can speak for himself. He does not need humans to speak for him and hence possessing showy speaking gifts does not make one more necessary or of higher status.[2] In a nutshell, do the "gifts" one possesses point towards Jesus or towards oneself?

God has given the church a variety of gifts. They all have the same source, the Spirit, and the same giver, God. He activates them as he sees fit. There is no indication in the te…

1 Corinthians 11:17-34

You can read the text here.

Paul, continuing to address issues of unity, now issues a stern rebuke to Corinthians practices concerning the Lord's Supper. Their meetings were doing more harm than good. Rather than bringing unity, their practices related to the Lord's Supper were dividing the church, shaming poorer members of the church and those of whom the host was not a patron by excluding them from the prime eating and fellowship area.[1] This deepened fault lines already present in the church.[2] Paul is understandably outraged.[3]

At this point Paul goes back to basics and reminds them of the tradition he handed down to them, of the meaning of the meal they were celebrating. It was a meal in which Jesus and his sacrifice for the sake of the church was to be remembered. And by remembered, he does not mean that events were to be recalled to ones mind. It meant that it required commitment to Jesus and engagement in worship, trust, and obedience.[4] It is a covenant meal where…

Minimizing Self-Deception

Over the past few months I have read two novels by Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose. Both are interesting if not quite easy reads, but there is one strand that is common between them (besides the obvious, of religious themes touched upon in both) that I think warrants discussion, and that is the ability of the human mind to see patterns in evidence that are not really there.

In Foucault's Pendulum, a group of men make up a historical narrative stringing together a series of facts to make an argument for a great Templar plan. They don't believe it and know the plan is fake but, the whole thing backfires when a key person who isn't in on the deception hears and believes the plan.

In the Name of the Rose a monk named William of Baskerville (reference to Sherlock Holmes was intentional) investigates a series of murders. He sees a series of coincidences as evidence of an elegant plan on the part of the murderer. The murderer learns of William's …

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

You can read the text here.

We have a significant shift in tone as we find ourselves at the opening of a new section. Paul opens with the strongest praise he has uttered thus far in the letter. Paul had given them instruction on how to worship and apparently they had worked hard at following it. However, Paul's instructions apparently had some gaps or there were misunderstandings at some points so Paul proceeded to address some issues he had not foreseen in this and subsequent sections. While the theme of rights and building up the body has not completely disappeared we move on to a new topic: order and gender distinctions in worship.

Paul begins by affirming a series of relationships where Christ is the head of man and man is the head of woman and God is the head of Christ. While 'head' is the most literal translation of the underlying Greek word, Paul is emphasizing a relationship of preeminence and public representation.[1] Paul begins by addressing the behavior of men …

The Divine Yes!

The word which is really the first and the last word is undoubtedly that the man Jesus, like God himself, is not against men but for men-even for men in all the impossibility of their perversion, in their form as the men of the old world of Adam. The decisive point to which we now turn is that the royal man Jesus is the image and reflection of the divine Yes to man and his cosmos. It is God's critical Yes, dividing and disclosing and punishing with all the power of the sword. And in this respect too, as we shall see, there corresponds to it the Yes spoken in the existence of the man Jesus. But, like the Yes of God, it is really a Yes and not a No, even though it includes and is accompanied by a powerful No. It is the image and reflection of the love in which God has loved, and loves, and will love the world; of the faithfulness which he has sworn and will maintain; of the solidarity with it into which He has entered and in which He persists; of the hope of salvation and glory whi…

1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1

You can read the text here.

Paul concludes his lengthy discussion of the rights and freedom of the Christian in community while clarifying his basic position on eating meat sacrificed to idols. Freedom from the law does not entail freedom to worship idols. It must be avoided at all costs and so must eating cultic meals in a pagan temple. The basic argument is that participating in the Lord's Supper is an act which collective binds us together as the body of Christ, bringing us into union with him. While idols themselves are not real, there are demons/demonic forces behind them to enslave people.[1] Eating at cultic meals similarly binds one in union with the demon/demonic force. That kind of union is incommensurate with union with Christ. God cannot be brought into union with a demon. Why would an individual Christian think they could do so? Underlying all of this is the covenantal background. The Last Supper which the Lord's Supper reenacts was a Passover meal and provoking t…

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to issue a dire warning, mostly to the strong. He continues with another set of examples, however, these are examples to avoid imitating, drawn from Israel's time wandering in the wilderness. Their status before God, from a superficial perspective would seem to be clear. They had been baptized and had been consumed spiritual food and drink just as the Corinthians had.[1] Nevertheless, God judged them (and implicitly he could judge the Corinthians depending on their conduct).

In fact there were a series of judgments for a series of failures. Idolatry, sexual immorality, putting God to the test, and complaining. The first two have obvious import to the Corinthian situation as they are the concerns addressed in the past few sections. The other two may be forward looking, especially the issue of complaining, as Paul may anticipate grumbling at his advice to strong leave off eating meat in temples.[2] Paul urges the Corinthians to heed their n…

How Little Things Change

From The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

"Why the Jews?" I asked Salvatore. He answered, "And why not?" He explained to me that all his life preachers had told him the Jews were the enemies of Christianity and accumulated possessions that had been denied the Christian poor. I asked him, however, whether it was not also true that lords and bishops accumulated possessions through tithes, so that the Shepherds were not fighting their true enemies. He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies. I reflected that this is why the simple are so called. Only the powerful always know with great clarity who their true enemies are.

Was Paul's Law Observance Inconsistent?

In our most recent post on 1 Corinthians we covered chapter 9. In that post when commenting on 9:19-23, I stated that, following Mark Nanos, Paul changed his basis of argument in his preaching depending on his audience. In saying this I was resisting the standard interpretation that Paul varied his behavior, particularly in relation to the law depending on his audience. Since I'm breaking with the consensus a bit, I thought I should give a fuller explanation of why I cam to that conclusion. But first let's present the text from the NRSV:

19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win t…

1 Corinthians 9:1-27

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to offer his own example as one where, for the sake of others, he has laid down his rights. He is an apostle after all. No one in the community would have higher status than he did. Certainly he (and his coworkers) had rights to financial support and also the personal support of a wife while he traveled just like Peter and the other apostles. Nothing could be more natural than for him to share in some financial benefit for his labors. Paul makes this point using a number of obvious analogies from normal life and Scripture. Others took advantage of this, should not Paul and his coworkers?

Paul does not make use of his rights because it would be a hindrance to the proclamation of the gospel. It would prevent some from coming to salvation. He is willing to endure anything for the sake of the advancement of the gospel, something the strong are not willing to do. The source of this commitment is rooted in Paul's transformed heart. He wants abo…

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to address issues that impact the health and well-being of the body and this time responding directly to a question from Corinth, eating food (mainly meat) that had been dedicated to an idol. However, knowledge that gives one a sense of superiority or status is not real knowledge in Paul's eyes because it lacks love, which is the critical thing as the goal is building the community. The knowledge that really counts is not what you know, but by whom you are known, namely God.

Paul grants that idols don't have don't have an objective existence, for there is only one God and one Lord who created everything including the powers worshiped by the Gentiles. They are on a lower rung which if understood that way does seem to make eating food offered to them an non-issue.

Not everyone has this understanding. They may have participated in idolatrous practices for so long that they cannot disassociate idol food from cultic worship. Seeing the…

Book Review: Labor of God

For my first proper book review in nearly five years, I figured I'd try something of manageable length, recent vintage, and high popularity, so I selected Labor of God: The Agony of the Cross as the Birth of the Church by Thomas Andrew Bennett. Including end notes it only stretches to 125 pages, but in that brief space Bennett clears the ground and then lays on us a novel metaphor for understanding the atonement.

Bennett begins the book noting how the ironic it is that we have completely lost the scandal of the cross. Atonement metaphors began as an attempt to make sense of the scandal. Now, the metaphors have become so worn that they no longer make sense of the atonement, they have anesthetized the cross of its power. Bennett seeks to reinvigorate our theology, "to more faithfully reckon God's agency in the death of an innocent prophet...to rereckon its violence, to reinvestigate its purpose, to see it in a new logic, even a new telos" (p. 2 emphasis mine). The pro…

1 Corinthians 7:25-40

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to give advice related to sex and marriage, now addressing the unmarried congregants. While he does not have a direct statement from the Lord to draw from, his advice is weighty given the position he has been granted by the Lord. If possible, he thought it better for single men among the Corinthians to remain that way for the time being. In all likelihood there was a recent or ongoing famine that made family life difficult, a famine which was a pointer to the end to which they were all awaiting.[1] Being overly concerned about familial concerns would detract from ones ability to be wholly devoted to the Lord, and during times of hardship that distraction is acute. There is nothing wrong with the decision to get married but staying single allows less divided devotion to the Lord. Paul applies this basic point to three categories of people: men engaged to previously unmarried women[2], previously unmarried women, and widows.

In both circumstanc…

1 Corinthians 7:17-24

You can read the text here.

Paul moves on, becoming more general in his discussion, making relative all human categorizations, and digressing slightly by showing application of his general principles to the issues of circumcision and slavery. Whether married, single, or in any other situation, Paul wants the Corinthians to avoid being enslaved by their circumstances.[1] Paul hammers this home with respect to two of the greatest divisions in his world, Jew/Gentile and slave/free.

Paul argues that circumcision or lack thereof is irrelevant as a distinction. What matters is obedience.[2] Similarly, God does not care whether one is slave or free.[3] If anything, slaves are on better footing in God's eyes. All each is called to, is service to God in the situation they are in. Additionally, at times it may have been tempting to try to gain status by enslaving oneself to an important person. The Corinthians ought not to do that. Status that matters comes from being in Christ, not from an…

How Often Should Married Couples Have Sex?

In my last post I commented on 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. In the first half of the passage Paul answers a query as to whether or not married couples should completely abstain from sex. In Roman culture, sex within marriage was not primarily about pleasure, it was about procreation. For men pleasure was pursued outside of marriage. However, for Paul, marriage was the only appropriate context for sex. Paul goes on to argue that, except for brief periods of prayer, couples should not abstain from sex, and to each spouse he grants sexual rights to the other's body.

Paul never gets specific, though. How often should married couples have sex? Part of me doesn't even want to attempt to discuss the question. I'm a man, and while I know how often I'd like to have sex, I don't know what the sexual experience of women is like. It seems likely to me that it's a much more deeply personal and vulnerable activity, having another person inside of you. Also, I think we need to appre…

1 Corinthians 7:1-16

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to discuss issues related to sex as he answers something from the Corinthian letter. Paul has just outlawed sex with prostitutes and other forms of sexual immorality.[1] This leaves sex within marriage only. Some in Corinth apparently felt that sex should be abstained from there as well. In Roman culture sex in marriage was generally not for pleasure, it was for procreation. The normal avenue for pleasure (for men) was with slaves, prostitutes, or others of lower status. [2] Some at Corinth felt that sex should be abstained from within marriage.[3] But Paul sees this is their only outlet, so he pushes back against this idea. Paul argues that, for both parties, permanent abstinence is a bad idea and gives each spouse exclusive rights over the body of the other.[4] Paul makes an exception that for a period of time they may abstain for the purpose of prayer. However, he notes that there is a risk even there that sexual urges may hinder their pra…